Sylvia Earle : The marine biologist on her new book, how heavy fishing increases carbon dioxide and getting to know lobsters as individuals.

1.- You have written several books about the ocean. Why this one, National Geographic Ocean : A Global Odyssey, and why now?

This book is my attempt to sum up what we now know about the ocean and make accessible in digestible bites. If you've got 10 minutes, you can sit down and learn something, with beautiful images.

2.- Why is the ocean so important?

The ocean is where the action is : 97% of the earth's water is in the ocean. It's where 95% of the biosphere is. If I were an evil alien wishing to alter the nature of life on earth, I would change the temperature of the ocean, I would change the chemistry. That is exactly what we are doing :

Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere becomes excess carbon dioxide in the ocean that becomes carbonic acid. The ocean is becoming more acidic. That changes everything.

3.- What is the single most important thing we can do for the oceans today?

Right now a disproportionate bite out of the ocean is being taken by a relatively small number of countries doing industrial fishing. We've got to get over this idea that wildlife from the ocean is essential for our food security.

What we now are beginning to understand is the high cost of eating fish. What does  it take to make a pound of tuna? A lot of halibut or cod. What makes the halibut? Smaller fish. What do they eat? Krill. Krill eat phytoplankton, zooplankton.

Over the years, thousands of pounds of phytoplankton make a single pound of tuna. So that tuna is expensive in terms of carbon that it has captured. The more fish we take out of the sea, the more carbon dioxide gets released into the atmosphere.

4.- We were all awed by the relationship to the documentary My Octopus Teacher. Have you ever experienced something similar?

I've had the privilege of living underwater on different occasions. It has enabled me to know individual moray eels, individual groupers, even individual lobsters.

They all have faces; they have attitudes. They have sensory systems much like our own. And yet we somehow harden ourselves to think they don't feel pain. We pride ourselves on being ''humane,'' but it doesn't translate to the way we treat animals in the sea.

5.- We've seen our hottest decades since recording began, rising emissions and major losses or coral reefs. What gives you hope?

Yes, half the coral reefs are either gone or in a state of sharp decline. The good news? We still got about half of them left. We can reverse to a very large extent that harm we have imposed, because now we know.

Knowledge is the superpower of the 21st century. Even the smartest people alive when I was born did not know what 10-year-olds today have available to them. That's truly cause for hope.

6.- Ocean advocates have set a goal to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, up from less than the 3% today. What will it take to get there?

Covid-19 showed us we can change quickly when our lives are threatened. Climate is no different. Our very existence is on the line. The ocean is the blue heart of the planet; 30% by 2030 is a good start., but I say half, as soon as we can get there. How much of your heart do you want to protect?

7.- What do you say to those experiencing climate anxiety?

It would be easy to say, ''Why bother? The problems are so big that there's nothing I can do; I might as well enjoy myself for the time I've got.''

But it's only hopeless when you give up. Change happens because of individuals who team up with others or inspire others. And then you've got 10 or 100 or 1,000 and then you've got a movement.

The World Students Society thanks author Aryn Baker.


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